'Merci's trial should not drag until her retirement'

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 14 2011 03:06 PM | Updated as of Apr 15 2011 07:12 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile does not want the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to drag on for a long time -- and worse, reach her retirement in 2012 and be rendered moot.

Without giving a specific timeframe, Enrile said Thursday the trial would finish within a "reasonable time" before year-end, "or maybe even shorter."

"This will be unacceptable to the people if their Congress cannot finish their impeachment case within a reasonable time," he told reporters in a forum. "I, for one, am not ready to accept that we cannot dispose this case within a reasonable time."

Despite this, Enrile is not in favor of proposals to amend the rules of impeachment to make the process of faster.

The rules state that senators will vote on the fate of Gutierrez after all the articles of impeachment have been tackled.

But Sen. Francis Pangilinan had earlier suggested that senator-judges vote on each article of impeachment after the prosecution and defense panels finish their arguments. Once the Ombudsman is found guilty in one of the complaints, she will be dismissed and the trial will end.

Enrile believes amending the rules would unnecessarily delay the process when they resume session on May 9.

"That will entail a debate among the members and it may take time. Once we agree to amend the rules, we'll have to republish those rules and it may take some time again before we can start," he explained.

The rules take effect 15 days after publication in newspapers.

Under the present rules - which were adopted before Congress went on recess last March 26 - the Senate will convene as an impeachment court on May 9, give the Ombudsman 10 days to reply to the complaints, and give the prosecution panel 5 days to reply to the Ombudsman.

"There will be preliminary issues that will be threshed out. I suppose the most optimistic time for us to start the trial would be about the last week of May," Enrile said.

Enrile added that Pangilinan's proposal would cast doubt on senators' impartiality as judges, especially if Gutierrez is not found guilty in the first charge.

"Once you ask for the votes of the members of the judging body... you would know now the position of each senator with respect to the respondent," he said. "I would like to avoid that. I would like that when we come to voting, none would know our thinking, none would know what is in our hearts."

Enrile said senators will try their best to finish the trial before year-end even if it has to go on break when session adjourns again in July.